Multi-million dollar algae biofuel plant opens in WA’s North-West

December 8, 2010

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The opening of an algae pilot plant in Karratha, Western Australia, brings Australia one step closer to creating commercial quantities of clean biofuel for the future.

The $3.3million project led by Professor Michael Borowitzka of Murdoch University and Dr David Lewis and Associate Professor Peter Ashman of the University of Adelaide, leads world algae biofuel research after more than two years of consistent results for both universities.

Prof Borowitzka said the productivity they have achieved from algae in saline ponds in Perth and Adelaide was the best in the world.

“We have achieved production rates of 50 tonnes per hectare per year, about half of which is converted to oil.  These high production rates are expected to increase at the new pilot plant due to better climatic conditions in Karratha,” Prof Borowitzka said.

The project, which received $1.89 million funding from the Australia Government as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, is the only one in Australia working on all steps in the process of microalgal biofuels production.

“The integration of microalgae culture, harvesting of algae and the extraction of oil suitable for biofuels production is critical to achieve a commercially and environmentally sustainable outcome,” he said.

Professor Borowitzka said that although producing biofuels from algae has been technically feasible for some time, the high cost of production has previously stopped it becoming a reality.

“We have already dropped the cost from $12 a litre down to $3 a litre in the past year, but our aim is to get it down to less than $1 a litre,” he said.

“The pilot plant in Karratha will allow us to further refine the production process and demonstrate the commercial feasibility under realistic conditions.”

“We will test lipid productivity of the elite saline microalgae strains developed by Murdoch and the new harvesting and lipids extraction methods developed at the University of Adelaide, on a large scale.”

The project is also investigating the anticipated reduction in carbon emissions of algae produced fuel, and possible further energy generation from algae waste.

Comments (2 responses)

Ian Longfield December 9, 2010

The economics of this still look very much out of the money but it depends on what is being produced.

If the oil produced is a rough crude replacement, that needs further refining, then even at $1/L, it would need the price of oil to reach over $160 bbl to be able to compete.

I hope that they are able to get this palnt up and running on a sustainable basis, but it looks like teh age of cheap oil is over.

Trevor Pearce January 19, 2012

Fantastic if it can be brought to production levels. Can't see any down side except the conversion process of algal mass into diesel. How is this done and what energy is used in the process?
(I am a total novice in these things and am only enquiring out of general knowledge)

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